As I reflected on the challenges we are facing today in campus and community discussions about race, sexual identity, gun control, and other issues, I recently reread Respect: An Exploration, by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot.
While I was president of the University of Maine at Presque Isle, each year I selected a book and gave copies to faculty, staff, and administrators who wanted to read it. My purpose was to provide a common foundation for campus dialogue. One year we read Respect, which includes intimate and detailed portraits of a midwife, a pediatrician, a teacher, a photographer, a lawyer, and an Episcopal priest. In each narrative portrait, the author explores how the interviewees develop and practice respect through engagement in their profession.
Ms. Lawrence-Lightfoot believes that respect creates positive connections that are sustained over time, and suggests that respect grows as practitioners use empowerment, healing, dialogue, curiosity, self-respect, and attention in their care for others.
We frequently hear comments about the lack of respect we have for one another, particularly in relations between communities and police forces, and in political debates. Ms. Lawrence-Lightfoot reminded me of the importance of being respectful in our professional interactions with the students we serve. We also need to encourage our students to practice respectful dialogue in their lives. By doing so, we may overcome our differences as we engage in the challenging conversations of our time.
Nancy Hensel is president of the New American Colleges and Universities, a consortium of small to midsize selective institutions.